Dreaming of Gwen Stefani
by Evan Mandery
What is in a name? Well, Mortimer Taylor Coleridge, Professor Fillmore Skinny, and Bertrand Fuddle suggest oddly mannered eccentrics contrived to knee-jerk the reader into a fantastical parallel world where it’s all evolutionary biology, hot dogs and Gwen Stefani. These are the characters who populate Evan Mandery’s first novel, Dreaming of Gwen Stefani.
Once a promising science student at Columbia University, Mortimer’s reality is shaken by a cruelly nihilistic professor named Fillmore Skinny and he drops out of school to employ OCD-evotion and mathematical precision to his job at a hot dog store. Mandery sums up Mortimer’s attitude about his chosen profession in this way:
Mortimer did not like the term wiener; it had a derogatory connotation, and he did not think of what he did as slinging. He considered himself to be an artist. Anyone who watched him could see this. Like a great ballerina, he performed with grace and efficiency. He wasted no effort.
Characters like this are cartoons, not people, and they can be hard to stomach if the author doesn’t treat them with some real sensitivity. Mandery doesn’t really have time. By using simple prose and winding up the tale in 187 pages, Mortimer’s neuroses get no space to be embraced, rejected, or properly considered. With pages — and in some cases entire chapters — devoted to the origins of the frankfurter, how Gwen Stefani’s group, No Doubt, came into being, and the development of the compact disc, you start to get the feeling Mandery is as disinterested in his characters as the reader is. Most of the characters here are just caricatures. Mortimer’s boss is Bertrand Fuddle (I dare you to find one in the phone book) who is (surprise!) the sullen company man armed with an unusual catchphrase, “This is better.” Mortimer’s girlfriend, Violet, is a borderline masochist who, for reasons we never understand, caters to his every whim. Mandery ignores the lives of the millions of charismatic characters in New York and puts us in the head of this prickly protagonist, hoping that time will endear him to us. Well, it kind of does. In the second act, the book moves toward Mortimer’s inevitable meeting with Stefani. When this moment arrives, it is all of Mortimer’s fastidious preparations, calculations, and obsessions that will have readers holding their breath awaiting the outcome. Finally, the wooden boy becomes real. It is a sleight of hand for which Mandery deserves credit.
In the end, Mortimer’s contrived quirks, tangents, and eccentricities incriminate us all. In our world that uses freedom of choice to drive consumerism and presents celebrity deification as a manual on self-improvement, we may all carry a bit of Mortimer’s social distortions.
To tell you if he gets the girl would ruin it, even though you already know Gwen Stefani’s married to Gavin Rossdale and none of this story is real. It is this very questioning of reality and the powers of choice — to believe in truth, fiction, or even choice itself — that Mandery presents, and it is this question that finally turns Mortimer Taylor Coleridge into the Everyman the novel so desperately wants him to be.
IG Publishing: www.igpub.com